The church had ground up five pastors in ten years. During my interview to be their next pastor, the board blamed the turnover on the resigning pastors. I didn't entirely believe them, but still I agreed to be their next victim, ahem, I mean, lead pastor. Perhaps I was engrossed in some sort of ministerial hallucination, but I really thought I was the one who could fix this church.
My bubble soon popped.
Four weeks into my ministry there, I realized this church had more factions than the Corinthian church of the first century! There was a group for the preschool and a group against it. There was the camp that wanted guitar-led singing and the one that was for piano-led music. Some wanted to keep children in the congregational worship service but others didn't want any minors in the sanctuary. Ever.
Several mid-lifers insisted I spend more time caring for seniors in the church while those seniors challenged me to spend more time reaching out to the unchurched in our community. There were the "small groups are from the devil" and the "if you love Jesus you'll join a small group" factions. As you may have guessed, every one of these special interest groups had its spokesperson. Most of these lobbyists arranged to meet with me during my first three months at the church. They meant well, I'm sure, but didn't want me to think well of the people in the opposing camp.
At first I tried my best to hear and love people on all sides. I strove not to pick sides and sought to reconcile people in conflict. But the in-fighting continued.
Eventually I discovered what I'd suspected all along. The pastoral turnover that preceded me was attributable, at least in part, to unhealthy patterns in the church. I also learned that the only way for a pastor to thrive in an unhealthy church is for the pastor to be extremely healthy. An unhealthy pastor only exacerbates sickness in a sick church.
This church exposed an inescapable reality ...